Just a quick disclaimer: I've never had an eating disorder. That's not completely accurate, because I've gone through many periods of eating my feelings and pushing into Overeaters Anonymous territory. I have been overweight. I have been on diets, though generally they have been eating what I want for part of the day and eating salad for the rest of it. Calorie restriction is not a great plan, but I was way bigger than I ever should be. I try to walk several times a week, because if I don't push myself, I get inactive and weak. I've mentioned before in this blog how I have a better body image now than I used to, without having a great body by most societal standards.
I have some friends who have dealt with eating disorders, mainly anorexia, though one used to have anorexia athletica, the overuse of exercise to control weight to an unhealthy point. You never really recover from thinking you're overweight, even if you've never been underweight. You might always be watching your intake, lamenting your waistline, being anxious about every bite.
And all this is a rambling lead-in to the research I was doing the other day into anorexia.
See, in the first book of my new Greatest Hits series (completed and edited, ready for more edits when I get a chance to focus on it again), we meet Drew, a gay young man who is dieting even though he is already thin. (There is a scary number of gay men with body image issues, anorexia, and other types of body dysmorphia) He's had a lot of negative in his life and no one stood beside him after a bad breakup. Mattie and Abby sort of latch onto him because he's funny, can sing, and is good at math. Like so many of my characters, he's fragile but sarcastic. Mattie's also come from a hard place and something about him ropes her in and turns her fiercely protective.
And then he hooks up with a hottie named Tom, but I don't want to get too spoilery.
Anyway, he knows he's got a problem, even when he's proud of himself for losing his "excess fat." After some bad stuff happens, he hits bottom of his depression and tells his friends, who get him in touch with a therapist and start taking care of him.
And now in the second book I'm currently writing, he's trying to recover, but his insurance won't pay for a stint in a treatment center and he certainly can't afford it. It's summertime and he's staying on campus to work so he can buy his books. Luckily, a few of his friends have stayed, too, but they're busy. He's not eating as much as he should and missing his boyfriend makes him more anxious and it's harder for him to eat. He's just started working out with his friends and is trying to get buff, but he's not supposed to be exercising until he reaches his optimal weight. Otherwise, he's replacing calorie restriction with calorie burning and it's no good.
One of the web pages I came across as I Googled my way to a bare minimum of knowledge is about the science behind recovery. Your Eatopia is interesting reading. I've barely skimmed the surface and have no idea if its the best possible source, but it seems to be a place to start.
So even though this book isn't as focused on Drew as the first book was (and he's a secondary character in both, though he gets a point of view), he's important to my other characters' happiness as well.
Body image for men has always been problematic. I mean, they used to sell chest-exercises to 98 pound weaklings so they wouldn't get sand kicked in their faces at the beach, right?
Nowadays, with women more open about ogling, there's a lot of objectification going on of muscles. I've blogged before about my discomfort with objectification. Not that I don't like seeing a good, healthy young man, but they're just....so young and so rare and so unrealistic. No, I've never seen Magic Mike. No thanks. I'm uncomfortable enough with bare chests on romance novel covers, especially when the face is obscured and all we get is the chest, no hint of the human heart that beats inside and the brain that is running the whole deal.
So my "98 pound weakling" Drew wants to buff up like his boyfriend and like his female friends' boyfriends. He's still far below his ideal weight and struggling to make himself eat. I know recovery from anorexia is not as simple as "just eat something" and it can also be a lifetime of watching what you eat and not falling into the same old pit. And I adore Drew. He has a long way to go.
Oh, I also read an article recently on Cracked.com about Muscle Dysmorphia, where a guy who was addicted to body building talked about how no matter how big his muscles were, they were never enough. He eventually had to stop working out because he lost his job and everything else because he didn't have time to do anything but lift. No matter how much he worked out, he never thought of himself as big enough.
Body image is such a mess for all of us. I suppose there are people who are completely happy with their bodies, but I don't know many of them and they probably haven't always been that way. It's like the people with curly hair who straighten it and the straight haired people who curl it. It's never just right.